The U.S. Department of Energy announced some big nuclear fusion news this week. It is truly gigantic scientific news, and I don’t intend to downplay the breakthrough at all here. I’m amazed and thrilled U.S. scientists were able to produce net-positive energy for a brief moment in a laser-based nuclear fusion ignition. Though, I think it’s also important to provide some broader clean energy context.
I haven’t seen anyone claim that this will lead to commercially viable nuclear fusion in the coming few years. It appears that the goal is to do so within a few decades. With that being the case, as cool as this is, nuclear fusion isn’t the — or even a — solution to global warming. On the electricity generation side of things, the world should be 100% powered by clean, renewable energy by the time laser-based nuclear fusion is on the market.
Wind and solar power are already the cheapest options for new electricity generation capacity in most of the world, and new solar and wind power capacity has become more competitive than electricity generation from existing coal or natural gas power plants in a few markets. In other words, even operating some established fossil power plants is more expensive than building new wind and solar power plants in some places.
We’ve written about plans for a 100% renewable-powered world for several years — actually, for more than a decade! If you have not read those pieces, here are a few top choices to explore how the world could clean up its electricity act long before nuclear fusion is on the table:
Perhaps it’s time to interview Mark Z. Jacobson again about the potential for a 100% renewably powered world and how to get there.
Adding another perspective with similar conclusions, see:
Overall, further developing nuclear fusion is great and it should help to diversify our energy system far in the future. More options are typically better. However, the path for a 100% clean energy world is clear and simple. Build more solar power farms, rooftop solar installations, and wind farms. Also build more battery storage systems to help integrate those into the grid. Overbuild solar and wind power in order to supply enough electricity at times of low wind and solar production and in order to not have to build too many batteries (which are urgently needed for electric transport). Implement better demand response, time-of-use pricing, and other flexible-grid solutions. While renewables are cheap and quick to install, nothing is quicker or cheaper than good energy efficiency solutions. Smarter grid management is also simple, cheap, and can be fun. Electric vehicles can easily act as large-scale, widely distributed, stealthy energy storage solutions as well, a more and more viable option each day as new electric vehicles hit the road.
We have solutions. We can wait for nuclear fusion, and we will patiently do so for another several years.
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Source: Clean Technica